The first time I really saw a Playboy magazine I was eleven years old. I stared with fascination as my best friend Angie pulled box after box of scantily clad covers out of a tucked-away closet in her parent’s basement. Her dad had apparently been collecting these paper relationships for years.
Sure, I had watched my own father laughingly unwrap them at milestone birthdays or receive them as gag Christmas gifts, but I had never once dared to peek between the pages. This was the first time I actually saw an infamous Playboy bunny. And let’s be honest here, it wasn’t just one playmate, it was a bundle of bunnies in all their glory.
There they were: the feminine frames visible from every angle and in every shape. As a prepubescent girl yet to understand the natural empowerment bestowed to me, I pored through the pages with wicked curiosity.
And as a burgeoning writer, I couldn’t help but stop and read.
Over the 62 years of publication, it seems like every comedian and late-night host has quipped about reading Playboy for the articles. Now it’s no longer a joke, but a reality. Earlier this week, Playboy announced that the infamous magazine will be covering up the bunnies starting in March 2016.
Playboy is not new to the well written word. They have published stories by Norman Mailer, Margaret Atwood, Arthur C. Clarke, and Chuck Palahniuk, among others. Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 was serialized in the March-May 1954 issues. The highly-regarded Playboy Interviews have included Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Vladimir Nabokov, and Jimmy Carter. In the latter, the then presidential candidate made headlines when he talked about his own relationship with the women between the Playboy pages, “I've looked on a lot of women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times.”
A quick perusal of the Playboy website clearly shows that relationships (and the never-ending quest for them) prevail. One of the most popular series, "Just the Tips," is a weekly advice column from matchmaker Katherine Cooper. She discusses moving in together, past lover revelations, and tricks on managing your friendships post marriage and children. Although provocative in nature, they aren't that unlike what you'd find in Esquire or GQ.
Last year Playboy's website dispensed with nudity so that the content could be deemed “suitable for work.” Articles are written to be shareable across social media. Playboy executives say that the average age of its online readership dropped to just over 30 and that its Web traffic sits at about 16 million unique visitors per month. That's a lot of people looking to consume content over cleavage.
Whatever you think of the magazine, it's tough not to acknowledge that Playboy knows relationships. Especially relationships with their audience. Their bold editorial change reflects the growing consumer desire for fluffier bits of content, and the understanding that nudity is no longer something hidden deep in the basement—it can now be found out in the open, and just about anywhere.
Millions of young men (and more than a few young women) educated themselves on love, lust, and relationships with boxes of bunnies. While the Playboy controversy may no longer lay within its pictures, it will likely continue forth through the proclivity of its words.
Sarah Stealey Reed is the editor of Relate. When she's not wandering the world, she's a loud writer of customer experiences, contact centers, and optimistic relationships. Find her on Twitter at @stealeyreed.